It’s all sort of an odd predicament, the Patriots having clinched everything possible for the playoffs, yet facing a pair of games that amount to must-wins.
Lose against Miami, or the New York Giants, and the overall goal may still be within sight, but with a “What could have been” footnote forever attached.
In most respects, a win over Miami on Sunday is a given, unless the Dolphins roll into Foxborough buoyed by their first victory of the season last weekend against Baltimore. The Giants, on the other hand, have everything to play for, as they are 9-5 and have to face the Bills and Pats the final two weeks of the season, opponents with a .750 combined win percentage. Only the Carolina Panthers -- a long shot, by the way, face as difficult a schedule the final two frames among playoff contenders.
If the Patriots lose, it means absolutely nothing where the playoffs are concerned.
And yet, it would be a monumentally difficult defeat for New England fans to take. After waiting this long, watching a team play this well, it would be a shame to watch perfection slip away.
At the expense of a Super Bowl? Of course not. Which is why it will be interesting to see how Bill Belichick approaches the Tom Brady-Matt Cassel tandem. Will Troy Brown see some playing time in place of the Moss-Welker-Gaffney trio? Better yet, might the veteran have the opportunity to catch Brady’s record 50th touchdown pass?
For this is what the Patriots are playing for now; perfection and personal accomplishments, which is indeed -- once again -- unlike any other Patriots team we’ve come to know under the Belichick regime.
Who they're picking
How folks from around the country see Sunday's Dolphins-Patriots game:
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 42, Dolphins 13. "The curiosity factor made this CBS' "A" AFC game for this week's coverage, but as expected, it won't live up to that billing. The Patriots will of course win, and for good measure, SN Sportsman of the Year Brady gets the five TD passes he needs for the single-season record of 50."
Jeff Zillgitt, USA Today: Patriots 33, Dolphins 13. "Good thing the Dolphins got their first win last week because they certainly aren't going to win this week. Whereas Ravens coach Brian Billick didn't want to go for a touchdown vs. Miami, Patriots coach Bill Belichick has no trouble trying to score as many touchdowns as possible."
Yahoo! sports: Patriots across the board
Our pick: Patriots 34, Dolphins 17. BC quarterback Matt Ryan catches the game and prays Bill Parcells isn’t looking for a quarterback with the No. 1 draft pick. Then again, Miami is better than Atlanta, no?